Despite organized opposition from smoke shop owners across the state, the Florida Senate passed a bill that will effectively shut down most headshops in the Sunshine State. Under the so-called "Bong Bill," the only shops allowed to sell water pipes will be stores where the sale of tobacco products constitutes 75 percent of the gross income or shops where the sale of smoking accessories accounts for less than 25 percent of the total take.
The bill passed with a unanimous 115-0 vote and now awaits the signature of Governor Crist. If he affirms the bill, the law will go into effect on July 1.
A few days ago, before the bill passed, I spoke with Jay Work, the owner of Grateful J's Deadhead Shop, with locations in Margate and Boca Raton. Work led the unsuccessful fight against the bill. He explained that this bill will put more than 1,000 Floridians out of work, and will promote cigarette and tobacco use.
"They're saying that if I sell a $4,000 piece of art at my store, that I have to sell $12,000 worth of cigarettes. I'm not sure who that helps," he told me. "They're saying basically you can sell this stuff -- we're just going to make it really hard."
The legislation is sponsored by State Rep. Darryl Rouson, a Democrat from St. Petersburg, and recovering crack addict. He has said on numerous occassions that he hopes this bill will lead to the banning of all pipes.
Now the owners of the 250-plus smoke shops in Florida wait for newly independent Charlie Crist. Their fate is in his hands.
UPDATE: Gov. Crist received the bill today and has until June 1 to either sign or veto it.